First Man Standing

What is an equal relationship? Career

10 February 2017 — — General What is an equal relationship? Career

Oxford Dictionaries define equality as ‘the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities’. But what does this mean in practice, in real relationships between men and women? In our three part blog series, we take a look at this question in relation to three areas – chores, childcare and career – using some of the stories submitted to the First Man Standing website so far.

Workplace inequality is, sadly, still very much a problem. Even though the Equal Pay Act was passed 46 years ago, the average female worker in the UK still earns 13.9% less than her male counterpart for doing the same job. This equates to 86.1p for every £1 a man earns, and means that women are essentially working ‘for free’ 50 days of the year.*

And the benefits of a more equal workplace are numerous. To cite just a few:

  • A study of the Fortune 500 revealed that companies in the highest percentile of women on their boards outperformed those in the lowest percentile with a 42% higher return on sales.
  • If women set up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be an extra 150,000 start-ups in the UK each year.
  • The Women and Work Commission found that unleashing women’s full potential could be worth £23 billion a year to the Exchequer.**

So what does women’s role in the public sphere of the workplace have to do with equal relationships in the private sphere of the home? As our first two blogs about chores and childcare have hinted, there’s actually a strong connection.

38% of employed women have dependent children (aged 18 or under). As women, on average, do most of the childcare and housework, they have less time to work. This is one reason why woman make up over 70% of part-time workers. And research by the Timewise Foundation shows that more than three quarters of part-time workers feel trapped in their jobs, unable to get promoted or find another flexible role that fits their skills. So the home life of many women is restricting their career development.

What can be done? There are calls to change job requirements and a workplace culture which discriminates against those taking on the bulk of the childcare – for example, introducing more flexible, part-time or job-share jobs. But changes also need to happen in the home. In one story on our website, a man reflects on what form these changes need to take:

Growing up in a world where the vast majority of people in positions of influence are men communicates many damaging messages to young people. It says to young women that positions of power are not for them. It says to young men that, to be a man, this is the level of achievement they must pursue at all costs. Consequently, becoming more of a man is deemed to mean gaining more power and ‘winning’ in life. Anything or anyone which gets in the way or slows you down must be ignored or gotten rid of. After all, to be delayed in the pursuit of success is an unmanly sign of weakness.

Many see the solution to workplace inequality as encouraging the ‘win at all costs’ mentality – which already exists in men – among women as well. […] But this will only be harmful: the solution instead lies in men shedding the insecurity that says that ‘I must always be winning’. Instead, men should seek to support and encourage others – particularly the women in their life – even if that comes at the expense of their own ‘success’.

Offering the example of example of his brother-in-law, he writes:

He chose for the rest of his life to put my sister first in the good times and the bad, at personal cost to himself and potentially at a cost to other ambitions he harboured. He does do incredible things in his career, transforming lives and being a role model for young men, but he is not striving to ‘succeed’ at all costs. He instead seeks to be a supportive and loving husband, dad, brother and friend – and sometimes that involves giving things up.

He notes that ‘if I was talking about a woman, […] this would not be remarkable or noteworthy’: many women over the centuries have sacrificed their public ambitions to their work in the home, some willingly and some less so. Equality in a relationship is about mutual sacrifice: imagine the radical changes we would see in the workplace if every partner in every relationship took this attitude.

What has become clear in this blog series is that these issues are all connected. How men talk about housework can affect the whole dynamic of a relationship. Equal childcare corresponds to increased numbers of women in the workplace. Equality at home means improved mental health for men, women and children. Equality, above all, means letting all aspects of your relationships be determined by your individual talents and by your love for each other: not by standard societal gender roles.

So if ridding the world of gender inequality seems like too daunting a task, be encouraged by the fact that one change you make at home in your relationship will have far reaching consequences for your family, your community and society as a whole.


*Statistics here taken from the Telegraph article ‘Equal pay: Women earn nothing from now until 2017

**All examples here taken from the article ‘Women and Work: The Facts

Read more examples or tell us about a First Man Standing you know here.

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